Trash, an Alphabet City Media book edited by John Knechtel and published in 2007 is an almost pocket-sized book in which artists, writers and filmmakers look at how we are defined by what we waste. Trash surveys a terrain that ranges from micro (a typology of dust bunnies) to macro (studies of landfill design and the trashed space of urban brownfield sites). It investigates the logic of trash as it is applied to humans and looks at lives intimately dependent on trash, delving into electronic waste, Nick Cave's Sound Suits, the abducted girls of Juarez and a futuristic portrayal of zero-waste cities in China.
Since 1998, American artist Michael Rakowitz (b. 1973) has collaborated with homeless people and worked with readily available materials including plastic bags, polyurethane tubes, hooks and tape to build inflatable shelters. This project, known as paraSITE, has had prototypes installed in urban environments of Baltimore, Boston, and New York City. ParaSITE has been exhibited by MoMA and MassMOCA.
ParaSITE's structures are custom designed as shelters for homeless people. They attach to the exterior outtake vents of a building's HVAC (Heating, Ventalation, and Air Conditioning) system. Appropriating the HVAC system on existing architecture, warm air leaving the building simultaneously inflates and heats the structures. Building and distributing these temporary structures that have lead to much civic debate, examination of the fine print in certain city laws, and the occasional involvement of law enforcement, Rakowitz offers neither a solution to homelessness, nor a cynical social commentary. ParaSITE instead reminds us that art may of course be functional, impact and benefit individuals outside the gallery's white walls, and engage communities, provoking thought around a serious issue present on the streets of every city.
Rakowitz currently teaches in the Department of Arts, Theory and Practice at Northwestern University. You can learn more about paraSITE and other works by Michael Rakowitz at http://rakowitz.reticular.info/.